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Five Differences Between Grad School in the US and Grad Schools in the UK and Australia



We often rave over the many reasons to study abroad. And they’re all true: From learning a second language to enriching your global perspective, the list of benefits of international studies is long. However, if you’re thinking of pursuing a graduate degree, you may also be wondering whether there are any key differences between grad studies abroad and in your home country. Here’s a closer look at five ways US grad school programs and UK and Australia grad school programs differ.

1. Duration of Study

While the typical master’s degree in the US takes two years, master’s degrees in the UK and Australia can be completed in a much shorter amount of time — many in as little as a year. A PhD, meanwhile, takes around three years in the UK and Australia — compared to five in the US. Not only can trimming time off your degree amp up your earning potential by getting you into the workforce sooner, but you’ll also save money on tuition and living expenses due to the shorter duration.

Five Differences Between Grad School in the US and Grad Schools in the UK and Australia

2. Flexibility

Because US degrees graduate degrees are spread over two years, they are often broader in nature — at least in the beginning. This can be an advantage for students looking for the freedom to explore different specializations and areas of research. In the UK, meanwhile, degrees are more specialized and self-directed. Students who already know what they want to focus on can immediately begin directing their efforts into this area and finish up sooner.

Five Differences Between Grad School in the US and Grad Schools in the UK and Australia

3. Cost

Not only will you pay less due to the shorter degree duration, but tuition fees in the UK and Australia are usually lower than those in the US, too. According to Investopedia, the average cost of tuition for a UK Master’s degree is $20,700 for American students. While tuition for a public US master’s degree is much less at an average of $14,537, the cost of an elite, private school graduate program skyrockets to more than $40,000 a year. One caveat? Funding is plentiful in the US so students may find it easier to offset the high cost.

When every penny adds up, even small savings add up to big ones: Many schools in the UK and Australia don’t require students to take standardized tests like the GRE and GMAT so you’ll also save on test and test prep costs. (A handful of UK universities do have GRE and GMAT requirements, so be sure to check into the admissions requirements for each prospective school.)

Five Differences Between Grad School in the US and Grad Schools in the UK and Australia

4. Term Structure

While most university terms run from mid- to late-August through mid-December and early- to mid-January through May with a lengthy break over the December holidays, academic terms in the UK and Australia may be different. While most schools also rely on a semester system, some UK and Australian universities use trimesters and quarter semesters, instead. They may also start a bit later than US schools with classes continuing into June. In general university, university schedules in the UK and Australia are much less standardized than in the US so will also vary more from school to school.

Five Differences Between Grad School in the US and Grad Schools in the UK and Australia

5. Teaching Approach

While countries all over the world aspire to the US higher education model, a recent article in The Guardian proposed that UK universities — where the focus is on “seminars, not stature” — have admirable qualities of their own, especially when it comes to teaching. While US undergraduate lectures are large with discussion groups typically run by postgraduates, in the UK “the focus is still on small-group teaching, and much of the undergraduate degree is conducted in seminars of 20 students or less.” Further, proposes The Guardian, “These seminars are taught by full-time staff who are experts in their field and have undergone extensive training in pedagogy.”

The good news? This is not as much of an issue at the graduate level where students in the US have more direct access to professors. However, it’s still important to remember that you’re dealing with two very different education systems and will need to adjust your academic expectations accordingly. According to US News and World Report, these differences can open up new opportunities for American students abroad:  “U.S. students are often not only exposed to new material, but also a new way of thinking and learning. Varied class structures, teaching styles and interactions between professors and students can enhance the experience.”

The overall takeaway? While inherent differences exist between university systems, they also differ between graduate schools and programs. Concludes US News and World Report, armed with information about these differences, “students can decide more clearly if earning a graduate degree outside the U.S. is a viable option given their academic and career goals.” So independent of location, the quality of the program and how it will position you to attain your goals are paramount considerations.

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